Angèle Dubeau, O.C., C.Q., O.M., C.A.L.Q., DFA
One of the most prominent violin virtuosos of her generation, Angèle Dubeau has led an exceptional career for over 40 years in the great concert halls of [...]
Like Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky, Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) composed only one concerto for the violin. Though finished in 1903, the Concerto underwent thorough revision and was only published in 1905. Sibelius was thirty-eight and had already written his first two symphonies and other major symphonic works.
In its revised version, the Concerto was first performed by the Czech violinist Karel Halir on October 19, 1905, in Berlin, with Richard Strauss conducting. The critics regarded the revised version as highly superior to the earlier. On November 30 of the following year, the American violinist Maud Powell introduced the Concerto to the United States at a concert of the New York Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall, repeating the work in Chicago and Boston a few weeks later. Despite its strongly modern character and modified sonata form, the concerto belongs to the romantic tradition of the 19th century.
The opposition of violin and orchestra is almost unique in its contrasts. The rhapsodic mood of the first movement is promptly set in the melodic sweep of the first theme, played by the solo violin against a somber background. The second theme is also given first to the violin. The second movement is in the nature of a romanza. The finale is an impetuous rondo on two themes. The rhythmic base of the movement is promptly set by the timpani and the orchestra basses, and soon the violin attacks a kind of “Danse macabre” which has also been ironically described as “a polonaise for polar bears.”
A child prodigy, born into a family of Russian publishers, Alexander Glazunov (1865- 1936)studied theory and composition with Rimsky-Korsakov, who observed his progress daily: at eleven years of age he was already composing and by sixteen had completed his first symphony. He began work on his only violin concerto in 1904, which was completed early the following year. “I myself saw the work take shape,” wrote Leopold Auer, the famous Hungarian-born violinist and teacher to whom the work is dedicated and who played it for the first time at a concert of the Imperial Russian Musical Society, in St. Petersburg, on March 4th, 1905, with the composer conducting. At that time, Leopold Auer had several outstanding pupils, one of them being Mischa Elman, then a boy of 10. Visiting the professor while he was giving Elman a lesson, the composer was so impressed that he asked Auer if he would allow Elman to give the first performance of his concerto outside Russia, a request to which the famous violinist willingly assented. That performance took place in London, at Queen’s Hall, on October 17th, 1905, with Henry Wood conducting. North America first heard the concerto at a concert of the Russian Symphony Orchestra, in Carnegie Hall on March 3, 1910. Again Mischa Elman was the soloist, and the performance was conducted by Modest Altschuler.
This concerto, with its three movements of uninterrupted fluidity, reveals a mastery of his art. In the first movement, a lyrical theme for the solo violin appears at the beginning accompanied softly by clarinets and bassoons. This particular theme is heard often throughout the work. A second lyrical theme is also introduced by the solo violin. The second movement opens as an aria on the G string of the solo violin. The mood later changes, and an agitato appears, teeming with complicated passage-work for the solo instrument. After the re-entrance of the main subject by way of the woodwinds, the music returns to the important motif of the previous movement. The third movement is reached with a bridging cadenza of ornate design for the solo violin. A sort of dialogue ensues between trumpet and violin on the notes of the principal theme, and is subsequently given a fortissimo emphasis by the entire orchestra.
© Gilles Potvin